But just a few hours later, the minister had to defend his plans on social networks. Users referred to a number of subsidiaries founded by Tönnies, which the Handelsblatt reported on two weeks ago. They accused Heil of offering loopholes to the company and claimed an exception to the draft.

It states that the planned measures “do not apply to the butcher’s trade”. This includes entrepreneurs who “generally do not let more than 49 people work”, who comply with the trade regulations and who have a license or are entered in a corresponding directory.

Users on social networks now suspected that Tönnies could identify its newly founded subsidiaries as such companies in order to circumvent the laws. SPD politician Heil reacted quickly to the allegations – the corresponding contributions were nevertheless shared a thousand times.

“Did you read the bill? Or is your assessment a feeling? “, Wrote the minister under a tweet. And under another: “Only CRAFT businesses are excluded. There have been strict rules for many years. “

In theory, it would be conceivable that slaughterhouses like Tönnies now found crafting daughters. But their work would then involve new conditions. The companies would have to allow additional controls, hire masters and above all: clearly separate the individual subsidiaries from the rest of the production.

For example, under the umbrella of the holding company, there should only be one craft subsidiary with 49 employees who is responsible for slaughter. A company with 49 employees that cuts the dead animals. And a company with 49 employees that packs the meat.

Tönnies employs more than 6,000 people in its main plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrück alone. Before the plant was closed after a corona outbreak, around 20,000 to 25,000 pigs were slaughtered there daily. It is unlikely that a system made up of individual skilled tradesmen will be considered for operation.

“15 new companies are not enough”

Even legal experts such as Steffen Scheuer, partner in labor law at the major law firm Baker McKenzie, do not believe that Tönnies wants to trick. He believes that the newly founded companies should have the purpose of circumventing Salvation’s law.

“On the one hand, the meat industry is so closely monitored by state authorities, trade unions, the press and the public due to the recent events that an attempt to circumvent it would be detected with a high probability and could then have life-threatening consequences,” said Scheuer.

On the other hand, the legislator had already predicted certain circumvention options and put a stop to them. In this connection, the lawyer refers, for example, to Section 6a (3) of the draft law, which considers the “owner” of a company to be the one who “decides on the use of resources and the use of personnel”.

This means that artificially splitting up the company’s apparatus, for example by founding 15 companies, would be of no avail if the same decision-maker decided on the use of staff and resources.

Then this owner would be responsible for all employees or agency workers employed by him. “It is therefore of no use to hire only 49 employees in each of these companies,” says Scheuer.

It is more obvious that Tönnies may want to use the 15 shelf companies for tax reasons or to shield certain equipment in the event of bankruptcy. The avoidance of participation rights is also conceivable. However, the aim would not be to avoid works councils. It could already be founded from five employees.

Rather, the suppression of participation in the supervisory board could be considered. “However, this is only possible in connection with a specially created group structure,” said Scheuer, “the establishment of 15 companies alone is not enough.”

Tönnies: “Completely normal process”

A Tönnies spokesman said that the subsidiaries had been entered in the commercial register as a precaution, because it is still completely unclear which forms of organization the planned law provides for. The establishment of such “shelf companies” in an international group is “a completely normal process”.

Legal foundations are required for the permanent employment of employees previously employed by subcontractors under work contracts. With the subsidiaries “we could quickly implement direct hiring at different locations and for the different companies in the group.”

The company had announced that it would employ all employees in the core areas of production by the end of the year. In a first step, 1,000 workers should have received their contracts by mid-September. “It remains unrestricted. We are already in the middle of this process, ”said the spokesman.

In mid-June, the company had 15 companies registered with the Gütersloh District Court. They are called “Tönnies Production” and are numbered with the Roman numerals from one to 15.


The subject of the companies is the production and sale of meat products of all kinds – including slaughtering, cutting and order picking as well as the “processing and processing into negotiable end products”.

“We founded the subsidiaries to hire employees at 100 percent subsidiaries,” a Tönnies spokesman said at the time on request. Since the group consists of different companies with different business areas, several start-ups are necessary.

Freddy Adjan, deputy chairman of the Food, Pleasure and Pubs Trade Union (NGG), told the Rheinische Post: “The meat industry has used a great deal of creative energy in the past to circumvent laws.” perfected over almost two decades.

It is therefore not credible that the founding of subsidiaries should only be a “precautionary measure”.

The personnel managers Sven Geier and Tönnies-Justiziar Martin Bocklage are registered as managing directors of the new subsidiaries. Bocklage is known in the industry: He worked for Westfleisch, Vion and Lutz Fleischwaren until the company was taken over by Tönnies and Vion.

More: In the Tönnies case, politics has to show that it can do more than just rumble.